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The Mysterious Green Room Incident

by Ryan Johnson, Mar 17 2009

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

As part of the continuing adventures of the Cast and Crew of The Skeptologists, I would like to share with you a bit of rough-edited never-before seen footage. This was shot during the Pilot of The Skeptologists and for reasons you will soon understand, it was never included in the final version of the pilot. I found the event interesting and it solidified my thoughts about how people interpret events based on their own predispositions.

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36 Responses to “The Mysterious Green Room Incident”

  1. Brian says:

    I agree that such incidents are more common than most of us suspect. When everyone is being hardnosed and skeptical in such outings, people are tempted to do something — either to yank people’s chains, or with a half-conscious idea that something needs to happen in order to “get the ball rolling”. I think much of the time they don’t expect to wind up lying about it at first, but when everyone reacts so strongly to the event, the incentive to come clean drops heavily.

    The mechanics of how we fool ourselves.

  2. Ha. That’s awesome. Well played, Mr. Johnson

  3. Mike B. says:

    I’m using Firefox on windows and I don’t see any movie… am I missing something??

  4. Tuffgong says:

    “It all goes to what you wanna believe”.

    The virtue of skepticism is that you don’t immediately go to what you want to believe. Even if that belief is supportive of the woo, the initial questioning and rationalizing of it is important.

    That little incident is an example of how people can build up an explanation beyond the reality of the situation, and how its simpler than people’s egos want to make them.

  5. Ryan Johnson says:

    If you are not able to see the embedded video, please go here on your browser, the video is on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwD8Ay78diA

    Enjoy!

  6. Paul Caggegi says:

    Good experiment! But also well demonstrated. Perhaps your quarter throw scared poor Henry off? :D Ha. Just kiddin’.

  7. Drew says:

    I immediately consider what the reaction of Dan (was that his name?) would have been if Phil and the others had never reached a conclusion and you had never confessed. Dan would surely have thought the skeptics were closed minded for not accepting it as genuine evidence of the paranormal.

    Genuine mysteries exist all over the place, but the paranormal conclusion is much more far fetched than even something as weird as the executive producer throwing a quarter on a whim and then lying about it.

  8. Phil Plait says:

    To be fair, I had my own thoughts when this happened, but tried to attack this from an analytical angle before trying to ascribe cause: investigate what we know first. When I said “I’m thinking … humans trying to hoax us.” I was wondering if the paranormalists were behind this; I’ll admit I hadn’t thought it was our own crew doing it! So in a way, I was acting from my own predisposition.

  9. Jim Shaver says:

    Thanks, Ryan! I’ve been waiting for almost a year to find out who through the quarter. (I was always pretty sure it wasn’t Henry.) I think that little experiment turned out better than you had intended or hoped. Sure, it probably doesn’t belong in the Skeptologists, but I’m thankful you saw fit to tell us about it here.

  10. MadScientist says:

    DUH! Cold quarter? It’s reflective; you cannot measure its temperature easily with infrared. What you will be seeing is mostly the reflected temperature of the room.

    I used to do this demonstration outside with a room temperature object with high emissivity and a heated object with high reflectivity. The warm object looked COLD on the camera because it was literally reflecting the sky’s temperature while the object at air temperature looks warmer because it’s more or less emitting the amount of energy we would expect it to emit at that temperature.

  11. MadScientist says:

    By the way – great move Ryan!

  12. Max says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deception

    When is the use of Deception Justified in Psychological Experimentation:
    1. When it is necessary to investigate important research questions involving the observation of true human behavior, which could not be examined through other means.
    2. When the use of deception would not cause more risk to the participant than everyday life events.
    3. When the researcher thoroughly debriefs the participants immediately at the conclusion of the experiment, and explains what was studied.
    4. All APA Guidelines and Code of Ethics are followed.
    5. Research is approved by proper authorities (IRB’s, etc.).

  13. Frank says:

    I would have loved to have seen the reactions when they all found out you threw it. I can’t wait for Skeptologists top make it to TV.

  14. Chris Kavanagh says:

    @Max

    If this was a formal psychological experimentation such guidelines might be relevant. Since it was instead an informal ‘experiment’ during the taping of a skeptical TV show I don’t think such guidelines are that relevant.

    Similarly, if I tell a psychic a blatant lie during a reading to see if they’ll pick up on it I’m doing a kinda psychological experiment but I don’t think I’d go to the bother of getting my ‘experiment’ approved by a professional association before carrying it out.

  15. Max says:

    Ryan Johnson said his experiment was too dishonest for the Skeptologists. It’s no more dishonest than Project Alpha or Forer’s deceptive personality test (where subjects got a “unique” personality reading that was actually the same for everyone). Ryan’s experiment satisfied the first three criteria for justified deception. The last two are obviously excessive in this case, but I included them for completeness.

  16. Max says:

    The paranormal researcher, Dan, was the only one who challenged his own predisposition when he said, “If that quarter is warm, it came from human hands.” But none of the skeptics bothered to talk to the ghost.
    So if a ghost ever did materialize a coin, the skeptics would never find out the truth, even if the ghost was ready to give them a show if only they’d ask.
    Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you should try talking to them. A lack of response would validate your assumption, while a response may provide a clue.

  17. Human contact is the only way a quarter may be warmed? All Dan did with that false assumption is inform hoaxers how he may be fooled.

  18. Max….seriously? No, seriously?

    My brain hurts. When does the hurting stop?

  19. Max says:

    Jose,

    I’m well aware of Occam’s razor and everything. But we’re talking about a show, and the skeptics should appear open-minded.

    Every Halloween at the Center for Inquiry Institute, skeptic Joe Nickell conducts a Houdini Seance, where he attempts to contact Houdini’s spirit or ghost. Has Houdini ever responded? No. Does anyone expect Houdini to respond? No.

    In a famous experiment on confirmation bias, subjects had to find a pattern by coming up with sequences and asking if they fit. At the start, they were told that the sequence 2,4,6 fits the pattern.
    Most subjects quickly assumed a rule such as “increment by 2″ and only tested sequences that satisfy their rule like “10,12,14″, but not sequences that challenge their assumption. So few got the right answer, which I won’t give away in case anyone wants to play.

  20. Max, skeptics ARE open minded. Which is why they’re skeptics and not cynics. As you can see in the description, this was never included in the final cut. So obviously this was omitted for good reason.

    “But none of the skeptics bothered to talk to the ghost”

    I’m sorry, what ghost?

    “So if a ghost ever did materialize a coin, the skeptics would never find out the truth”

    Firstly, you have to prove ghosts exist. Then you must prove they have the ability to materialise solid objects from thin air.

    “Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you should try talking to them”

    Ummmmm….no. That’s like talking to the fairies in your garden.

    “A lack of response would validate your assumption”

    No it wouldn’t. If the ghost DID exist then what makes you think it wants to hold a conversation? What if it can’t vocally communicate considering it lacks vocal cords. What if it simply isn’t even there?

  21. Max, I’m not sure the words “I’m well aware of Ockhams’ razor” and “none of the skeptics bothered to talk to the ghost” can truthfully exist within the same human being.

  22. Max says:

    “Firstly, you have to prove ghosts exist.” -Jose

    And how would you do that? If your answer is, “You can’t, because ghosts don’t exist,” then don’t pretend to be open minded about it.

  23. Max, I’d love to go to and fro with this dead end argument but alas I have better things to do…like…chase dust.

  24. Max, the skeptic is not duty bound to chase claims for which there is no evidence. The skeptic must have something to be opened minded about. That someone believes in ghosts, perhaps saying, “there’s one right over there!” is not worthy of openmindedness.

    The minute ghosties produce something resembling actual evidence, the already open skeptical mind will consider it.

    Evidence. Got any?

  25. Max says:

    “Max, the skeptic is not duty bound to chase claims for which there is no evidence.”

    Didn’t the Skeptologists set out to do just that? If they already KNOW the conclusion (like that Creation scientist lady interviewed by Shermer) then what’s the point of conducting any investigation?

  26. Hmmm….starting with a conclusion and working your way down. Sounds like the typical “paranormal” approach.

  27. Max says:

    Jose, it also sounds like the typical “debunker” approach. Start with the conclusion that ghosts don’t exist, and only look for natural explanations of all observations. You can justify this approach with Occam’s razor, I’m fine with that. Just don’t expect the show’s viewers to accept this as being open minded. From the video clip, it’s clear that Dan is more open to a natural explanation than Phil is open to a paranormal explanation.

  28. Wait, someone has mentioned this isn’t in the final cut more than once right? I’m so over anything paranormal related. I think I’ll change my name to simply “Jose”.

  29. “Didn’t the Skeptologists set out to do just that? If they already KNOW the conclusion (like that Creation scientist lady interviewed by Shermer) then what’s the point of conducting any investigation?”

    1. They aren’t DUTY BOUND to do so, but may elect to. It’s a TV show, not a lab experiment.

    2. If scientific evidence emerged, there would be something to pursue. Evidence. Got any?

    “Just don’t expect the show’s viewers to accept this as being open minded.”

    It’s not in the show. No viewer will see it. Besides, satisfying wooster ideals of ‘openmindedness’ is nigh impossible. Typically, the idea of wooster ‘openmindedness’ is backasswards: All paranormal claims are real until proved unreal.

    “From the video clip, it’s clear that Dan is more open to a natural explanation than Phil is open to a paranormal explanation.”

    Historical Scorecard on Natural Explanations Vs. Paranormal Explanatuions: 1,000,000,000 to 0

    Evidence. Got any?

  30. Max says:

    “They aren’t DUTY BOUND to do so, but may elect to.”

    I didn’t realize that skeptics were duty bound to do anything.

    “It’s a TV show, not a lab experiment.”

    I’m talking about the TV show.

    “It’s not in the show. No viewer will see it.”

    Because Ryan thinks his experiment was dishonest. See my comment #15 on that. It’s a safe bet that the attitudes in the show aren’t any different than in the clip.

    “Besides, satisfying wooster ideals of ‘openmindedness’ is nigh impossible.”

    I’m talking about the general audience, not woosters.

    “Historical Scorecard on Natural Explanations Vs. Paranormal Explanatuions: 1,000,000,000 to 0.”

    You always accept the natural explanation over the paranormal one due to Occam’s razor, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.

  31. You assume a little too much I think.

    Alrighty then…next topic

  32. Bevans says:

    That was really interesting. I’m glad you posted it.

    Also, I wanted to point something out: GET YOUR WEB SITE ADDRESS IN THAT VIDEO! At the beginning, at the end, whatever. I think you’re missing a solid opportunity to help create a little more buzz around the show. Yes, all of us on this site already know about it, but people who see it on YouTube, or see it embedded on some blog somewhere, probably don’t.

  33. “You always accept the natural explanation over the paranormal one due to Occam’s razor, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.”

    I accept neither unless and until the evidence compels me. Do you at all see a trend here?

    Evidence. Got any?

  34. Baxter says:

    My only question is what was Phil doing with a very crappy AC meter? How was that going to tell him anything? No offense Phil, I am just curious what the thought process was.

    KII meters are a pretty bad way to measure anything, even in the industrial world. Most paranormal investigators use them as an electronic ouija board to talk to the ghost. So, maybe Phil WAS trying to talk to the ghost after all!! If that is the case, good job Phil! That will show the believers that you are an open-minded guy that is willing to try!

    This was a fun clip that made some very good points. This comment section also makes some good points: Skeptics like to look from more than just one angle to find an answer and Max will always believe what he believes regardless of what anyone else presents to him.

  35. Max says:

    “Max will always believe what he believes regardless of what anyone else presents to him.”

    WTF?

  36. William Mook says:

    As an experiment, lying about the quarter toss was not dishonest. Had the FLIR operator known about how metals reflect heat (and thus explained the radiant pattern at the edges of the quarter) as described by a person above, they would have quickly concluded the quarter was tossed by someone.

    So, this isn’t so much an experiment in what people want to believe, it is an experiment that shows that someone operating equipment for which they’re not fully qualified to interpret, can come up with mysterious interpretations. This describes precisely most ghost hunting shows.

    The bright ring around the quarter did indeed show that it was warmed by human hands – and had that been the statement of the FLIR operator the mystery would quickly have been solved.

    We approach the world with emotion and with logic. Our understanding of the world – in both dimensions is limited compared to the range of things the world can present. So, the world produces ‘mysteries’ for this reason. If it wasn’t the FLIR operator, it could be something else. But two things must be in conjunction;

    1) evidence that is incomplete or mis-interpreted to mean a thing;
    2) an emotional component;

    The Henry legend, or memory, provided #2, the FLIR operator in combination with the coin toss provided #1.

    The logical centers of the brain don’t trust the emotive centers.
    The emotive centers don’t trust the logical centers.

    Yet, both emotion and reason are ways to relate to the world. A world without reason is a mad hell. A world without emotion is hell also.

    Where does heaven reside?

    When reason and emotion both support one another in creating a joyful beautiful world of intense possibility that is real and based solidly in reality.

    The challenge of realists and idealists alike is the creation of a path where both processes support one another and do not compete for dominance in creating the hell each alone is capable of.

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